Revered for his uncompromising 1960s New Thing innovations, seminal free jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler's often maligned cross-over work from the end of the decade received widespread criticism. Seeking a wider audience, Ayler's final efforts often presented the lyrical contributions of his girlfriend, Mary "Maria" Parks in more traditional blues-based settings.
Widely misunderstood and commonly misinterpreted as a commercial sell-out, Ayler and Parks' collaborations featured her "universal consciousness" lyrics delivered with boundless, amateurish enthusiasm, while Ayler restrained his outré playing to more acceptable R&B standards. Ayler never got a chance to fully explore these later works; his body was found floating in New York's East River in 1970.
Drawing material exclusively from his final albums, Love Cry (Impulse!, 1967), New Grass (Impulse!, 1968) and Music Is The Healing Force of the Universe (Impulse!, 1969), Healing Force: The Songs of Albert Ayler revisits these underappreciated works with empathetic devotion, recasting them for a new generation.
Organized by guitarist Henry Kaiser, this all-star septet features a wide variety of talent drawn primarily from the West Coast's improvising underground. Flying Luttenbachers founder/drummer Weasel Walter and Bay Area bassist Damon Smith make a pliable rhythm section. Guitarists Henry Kaiser and Joe Morris (the only New Yorker) are joined by former Frank Zappa guitarist Mike Keneally, primarily playing piano. The sole horn, Los Angeles scene leader Vinny Golia, doubles on everything from baritone saxophone to flute, while New Music vocalist Aurora Josephson interprets Parks' lyrics with cool élan.
Despite the unintentional camp factor of Parks' amateur evangelism, the septet does a stellar job of transposing the optimistic naiveté of the original texts into a more reticent, cautionary view. Case in pointthe endearing gospel fervor of "New Generation" was once a buoyant celebration. Now, Josephson's icy delivery is underscored by a sinister metronomic backbeat and a haunting guitar vibe that recalls early Sonic Youth.
Revealing copious moods and dynamics, the ensemble veers from whispery AACM-styled musings to scorching collective torrents. Alternating acoustic and electric modes, the brisk angularity of Morris is contrasted by the blistering, fret-board shredding of Kaiser. Golia shares Ayler's unhinged passion without resorting to imitation, while Josephson's alluring vocals endow these unconventional tunes with an austere dignity.
Healing Force: The Songs of Albert Ayler suggests a critical re-evaluation of the master's late period works is well past due. For those interested in the limitless bounds of an unfettered tradition, there is much here to rejoice.
Personnel: Vinny Golia: reeds; Aurora Josephson: voice; Henry Kaiser: guitar; Mike Keneally: piano, guitar and voice; Joe Morris: guitar and bass; Damon Smith: bass; Weasel Walter: drums.